Lawrence Neil never wears Nautica.
Earlier this month, Quality Control signee Jayaire Woods released his third EP, Big Wood, without much fanfare. Big Wood was pushed back to make room for Lil Yachty’s Teenage Emotions, and it feels par for the course. Recruited by kingmaker Coach K two years ago, Woods has since been steadily dropping projects in the shadow of his Atlantan kingpin labelmates.
Woods reps Bellwood, a westside Chicago suburb, and is a strange fit for QC’s almost exclusively Southern roster of trappers. He’s introspective, self-effacing, and self-described as “anti-social”—words that feel out of place on a label headlined by Yachty and Migos. His album art is hand-drawn by friends, representative of an unpretentiousness that’s deeply refreshing amongst hip-hop’s omnipresent flexing. Woods is a guy who worked as a mailman because it was his dream job; he talks about how getting a promotion while working at Target allowed him to get studio time. His breakout song, “2Shoes,” is a reference to being a goody-two-shoes. He’s earnest, wholesome, easy to root for.
Last fall, Jayaire opened on Yachty’s tour despite being a bit of an awkward pairing with the cartoonishly exuberant cool hunter, yet the two QC youngsters actually have pretty strong chemistry. Woods’ first track to get radio play was a Lil’ Boat collab called “Man of the Year” off his September mixtape, FreeTheFall. The song is a lethargic, skittering boast track, snugly fitting in the pair’s Venn diagram overlap as Woods harmonizes over Yachty non-rhymes (“‘Broccoli’ went gold, do I need to say the rest? / It’s Lil’ Boat, all my diamonds go bling, blang, blaow”).
Woods has been gifted with this lilting, singsong voice that is singular, and, unlike his auto-tuned peers, his drenched, melodic sound is natural. He has a mumbling, almost Young Thugian warble; on the gradient of melodic rap, it’s closer in character to Mos Def than the cleaner sound of Drake or Chance.
And following budding Compton star Boogie or former G.O.O.D. signee Consequence, Woods doesn’t shy away from a quickly apparent lisp. This is a choice—Kool G Rap, the O.G. of lisped rappers, buried it in a more percussive delivery. Jayaire wields it as a weapon, flipped into a textured output that feels hand-sewn, three-dimensional, fibrous. He combines this natural instrument with a penchant for ad-libs that bear resemblance to Migos and Uzi Vert but remains distinctive (peep his repeated, drawling “49th and Randolph”). All tied together, the sonic package is unique and fulfilling even before clicking into its actual content, which happens to be really dope as well. Despite some incongruity with his labelmates, it’s clear why a man with a golden ear like Coach K snatched up Woods.
Big Wood’s opening track, “BIG,” sets a strong tone for the project. A sweeping, slightly muffled psychedelic guitar snowballs for over a minute before Woods makes his subdued entrance: “Hair growing… facial hair growing.” From the first words, it’s a self-aware, narrative project about passing time, growing fame, and Woods’ sense of place in it all.
He’s at his best in reminiscing riffs that paint nostalgic images of boyhood in vivid shards: “Used to stay right off that corner house / go to Jack’s store, I was wearing them motherfuckin’ Iversons / You had on Shaqs though, too real, man, a young n*gga like to win.”
Woods finds pockets and thrives in them, complementing raps with scatty asides, experimenting with syncopations but with a deep respect for the production, riding the beat with reverence and flow. He certainly has room for development: “Off The Clock” is cute and crisp, released as the tape’s lead single likely due to the EP’s sole feature in Sean Deaux of Chicago stalwarts THEMpeople. Deaux’s verse is decent, but he’s done better. “Intentions” also feels a bit off-mark—it reads like a reference track from an Uzi Vert/Metro Boomin session, which doesn’t quite hit Jayaire’s sweet spot. Elsewhere, he occasionally tosses out platitudes or generic hooks that feel a bit undercooked.
Frankly, this is splitting hairs—these shortcomings would actually be fine for plenty of other artists, but just feel underwhelming in juxtaposition with his truly excellent verses, chock full of lines that make for tasty close reads. These bars on the spacious, sprawling “Intentions” help kick off a powerful three-track run in the middle of the project:
I had dreams and nightmares getting closer to it
If I got a choice on either then I’ma overdo it
Rather than under do it, under influence
My cousin got shot, it’s crazy that’s what got me closer to him
“Woodside” follows, one of several gems on the EP from producer VZN. He underscores Woods with a beat that’s ornate and kaleidoscoping, resonant and crystalline. Jayaire’s voice is so pulpy that you get lost in his canon of layered entreaties (“I hope you stay down” x8) on the hook. He nods to his awkwardness and standoffishness—“I’m an antisocial I don’t fuck witcha,” a theme he’d included in “Off The Clock,” saying, “I’m not too good at sharing my thoughts.” Thankfully, it appears that he overcomes that weakness in his raps.
“Wood” caps off this run, one that rivals the back-to-back-to-back standouts on FreeTheFall—“No Fear,” “Man of the Year,” and “Roster.” Over a tender violin sample and loose, dragging drums from producer Canis Major, Jayaire delivers his most lyrically robust performance of the tape. Here he’s a writer’s rapper, pairing winking, playful wordplay (“It’s all green, I’ma sell tickets” or “Smoke the bush I beat around”) with carefully constructed sequences of wistful nostalgia that are just waiting for Genius to highlight their literary devices:
Used to be on y’all curb /
Playing any sport we could, it’s crazy how time curve
Woodside, I made something special for my ‘burb
It ain’t sweet / lotta beef / n*ggas deep / in the dirt
Told me that she smell like me when she sleep in my shirt
Moved around on my ex ‘cause she ain’t seen me for my worth
He’s deeply attuned to the sonic quality of words that makes a listening experience unconsciously delicious, even hinting at this subtle effect, saying, “My lyrics braille-driven / You ain’t see it but you felt feelings.”
Over washed out, echoing found sounds, Woods zooms out to end on “Vacation.” He takes account of his surroundings and consults his rearview before crescendoing into a triumphant coda, one that waves a bittersweet good-bye to the old life about which he’d spent the project waxing poetic:
I want it all / with all my n*ggas / I hope they with it
But either way I / I gotta go / I gotta get it
It’s grand and entrancing, montage music to play with the windows down in the whip as you ride into the sunset. Outright singing to conclude, Woods sets himself on a bold upwards trajectory towards something bigger, one that he may be confronting alone. Despite technically being label-backed, Woods doesn’t appear to have the focus of Quality Control’s well-oiled culture machine and he seems too introverted himself to self-promote. Here’s to hoping that Woods’ music will facilitate this path; Big Wood is another rich addition to the young rapper’s mounting discography that is becoming difficult to ignore.